Sunday, April 21, 2013

How I got my agent. (And how you can get one too!) Part three

In my five year process of querying agents, I read many tweets, posts and threads, many very helpful. The most common underlying theme? Persistence. I know of no one who succeeded right from the word go. With the exception of someone like Hillary Clinton--who has a huge demand for her book before she writes word one--it is a process. In my case, it was a process that lasted over five years.

Five years before I signed with Liz Kracht (and let me say I wish every writer gets the chance to work with agent as good to work with as Liz) I got my first rejection (R). I had sent three query letters out to agents I had researched, and received one request for the first fifty pages. The agent liked the first 50, and requested the full. After three weeks of me trying to imagine what the cover of my best-selling book would like, I got the dreaded R, a form letter saying "not for me." (You are going to learn to loathe that comment, trust me!) I was disappointed, of course, but by the time I returned from a long hike I had accepted the R as part of a process. Ok, my full was rejected, but at least the query had hooked one partial request, and the partial had hooked a full. I was NOT back to square one. The process had begun.

Over the next year, I queried and submitted off and on, stopping when I got some feedback I could use to revise the query or the mms. (Not all feedback is usable. I would like to discuss this in a future post, but suffice it to say that when several agents say the same thing, you best pay attention.) The biggest problem I had was lack of feedback, the dreaded form R. The problem with the form R is that it could mean anything from: 1) I really don't represent this genre (despite what it says in Agent Query or Query Tracker) 2) I liked the mms but it is very similar to one on my list 3) your writing makes me want to gouge out me eyeballs 4) you are a good writer but this project lacks promise.

The way around is to query widely, and save in a separate file all the helpful rejections, because those agents saw something in your mms that spurred them to take the time to send a helpful note, short though it may have been. Several years ago, during the process for my second mms, I made a major revision and sent it back to the above agents with a polite note explaining that they had reviewed and passed on the mms previously, would they be interested in seeing a revision. (Take note: this is not a business where gimmicks or trickery play a role. Be honest, concise and polite at all times.) Many will not be interested, but some will. And even if the interested ones ultimately pass again--they likely will--you will likely learn a good deal about where your mms goes lacking. Is it pacing? (If it is your first mms, I will bet pacing is at least part of the problem.) Flat characters that don't come to life? (Also likely with mms #1) Too many adjectives and adverbs? (Sure sign of a neophyte!) An overdone theme?

Whatever it is, you have to be woman or man enough to listen and accept. The process does not move forward unless you can LISTEN and ACCEPT! I am not suggesting this is easy: you pour your heart and soul into something as intimate as writing, and all anyone points out is the negatives. But that's the way of it. They may be telling you that you need to move on. This was the conclusion I came to after a year and a half of querying/submitting my first mms. When all was said and done, the collective wisdom of over a dozen agents said: You can write, but this mms isn't going anywhere. (Some actually told me to scrap it, move on, and submit my next mms to them.)

So, I scrapped it--but I was along way from square one. I had moved well into the process, and in my next post I will talk about all the things I learned from writing a mms that didn't make it out my desk drawer (where it belongs.) Thanks again for those of you who wrote me with comments or requests for more. Once again, I am on Twitter (@phogenkampVT) and Facebook as Peter Hogenkamp.